20 July 2012
Travelling from Sydney some 2500km away to the far reaches of north-west Queensland, 340km north-west of Mount Isa, we heard many stories about our chances of getting our RV into Lawn Hill. Responses ranged from "No way mate it's far too rough" to "You'll be fine, just take your time".
Departing Gregory Downs, north of Mount Isa, we were pleasantly surprised that the initial 11km of our 100km unsealed road journey was tar, albeit single carriageway. However, tar soon gave way to a graded and very well formed (but incredibly dusty) gravel road, which remained quite smooth until we reached the Zinifex Century Mine, halfway to Lawn Hill. Clearly, the mine grades its part of the road regularly to accommodate the many giant road trains which come hurtling from the open-cut mining operation. My only advice to RVers would be if you see a road train, pull over and give them a wide berth and marvel at the skills of the drivers who gratefully acknowledge your assistance.
Once you pass the front door to the mine, the road changes dramatically. It instantly becomes rough with deeper and wider corrugations and bigger and sharper rocks. For us, the most challenging (and dare we say exciting) part was traversing the three river crossings in our motorhome.
Most of the caravans going into Lawn Hill were of the off-road variety but we also spotted a few standard RVs as well, which gave us heart as we approached the crossings. As it turned out, only two of the river crossings were of a depth to produce some butterflies. With some sensible paddling around in the water to determine the depth and the best way to cross, we traversed the water crossings without incident. This outback Queensland trip was certainly living up to our expectations.
After two and a half hours of travel, we were greeted by an old rusty sign nailed crudely to a tree near the entrance to the National Park which said "Welcome to Adels Grove". Someone had added "Hooray!" It was exactly how we felt.
While off-road vans and 4WDs will negotiate (with care) the 100km stretch easily enough, the standard caravan and motorhome owner may be nervous about their rig in the dirt. Don't let it deter you, just do some research and remember to check conditions with the authorities prior to leaving. We have an adventurous spirit but are not risk takers by any means, and we made it comfortably.
On arrival at the campground, we were delighted to find each site was spacious and very private. Ours had bush at the rear and the side. There are no fires, pets, or generators allowed in the park. The site was a two-minute stroll to Lawn Hill Creek. We aren't sure why they call it a creek. With the magnificent expanse of jade water passing between plunging red sandstone gorges which light up at sunrise and sunset, it's much more like a major river. In no time we found ourselves in the warm winter water, floating lazily along the river and washing the two and a half hour, 100km dirt road adventure from the pores of our skin.
During our winter escape to Lawn Hill, the average day temperature was a balmy 25°C (the top temperature was 31°C) and the water was perfect for swimming. In the various water holes, you are reminded to watch out for small freshwater crocodiles. It is a very good idea not to disturb them if you see one on the river bank. While canoeing one morning in the far reaches of the river, we got a little too close to a freshie who was lazing on a log in the shallows. It made its displeasure clear when it let out a frightening hiss then growl, which we took as a timely warning, immediately putting our canoe into rapid reverse.
While not anywhere near as big as the fearsome saltwater crocodiles found in other parts of northern Australia, freshwater crocodiles are still scary sights with their large jaws and razor-sharp teeth. They don't seem to bother people as there were a few lazing around in the many kilometres of open water. Nonetheless, we always kept a sharp lookout for them.
Lawn Hill really is picture perfect, with blue open skies, hot weather during the day and cool nights… a wonderful recipe for any RV holiday. The previous inhabitants of the area, the Aboriginal Waanji People and after them the cattle grazers, were blessed to live in this 388,000ha reserve until it was donated to the Queensland Government as a national park in 1984.
Today, RVers can spend a week in the park and still not see everything. The main attraction in the park is bush walking, closely followed by canoeing on the wide waterway which runs through the area. There are two and three person canoes available for hire, or you can take your own. Enjoy the leisurely paddling between the towering sandstone cliffs and keep a look out for turtles, fish and those freshwater crocodiles.
It won't be long before you reach the magnificent Indarri Falls. Jump in and cool off under the churning waters, but stay off the surrounding porous tufa rocks as they are delicate and protected by law. You will need to get your canoe out of the water onto land, then carry it 100m to the next stage upstream. A big tip here is to wait for someone going back upstream and simply swap canoes with them. This saves you struggling cross-country with the large unwieldy canoes.
Once you are in the water again, there's another 15 minutes of paddling before you reach some very small rapids, which you are strongly encouraged to get through. After this minor challenge you move into the Upper Gorge, where you will spot those elusive saltwater crocodiles. We spotted two freshies in a just a few minutes.
When you return to the waterfalls, be sure to tie up your canoe and climb the well-formed walking track high above the waterline. Stand at the lookout and be amazed at one of the best views Australia has on offer. Take a rest after returning your canoe, because there are several other stunning walks to be had high above the magnificent Lawn Hill Creek. In our many years of travel we have had the enormous privilege of seeing so much of nature, and Lawn Hill National Park is one of nature's finest creations.
If you prefer more luxurious camping, you can stay at Adels Grove, which is 10km away from the national park. While we prefer the park, there are some who enjoy the masses of shade afforded by the huge palm trees at Adels Grove. It is very picturesque and has the luxury of hot showers. The downside is that you have to pay a lot more in fees than the nearby National Park. Overcoming the lack of hot showers at Lawn Hill is quite simple. We used our solar shower packs (which can be purchased from any camping store for under $10) and laid them out in the sun after breakfast. By night time the water was so hot you needed to be careful not to scald yourself.
It's best to undertake walks during the cool hours of the morning as it can get very hot as the day progresses. There are some easy walks such as Wild Dog Dreaming, which showcases 10,000 year old Aboriginal art, and it is only 1500m return. One of our favourite walks is the longer and more difficult trek up Island Stack, with its panoramic views of massive sandstone walls which rise high above the still waters. You don't see a lot of fellow hikers on this walk, so go ahead and yell your head off to experience some of the best echoes heard around Australia!
Before you leave the Park, you may wish to visit its south-eastern corner, which includes the Riversleigh World Heritage Area that protects one of Australia's (and the world's) most intriguing and rich fossil sites. Unearthed in the 1960s, Riversleigh's 25 million-year-old fossils include 300 pre-historic creatures such as crocodiles, massive wombats, meat eating roos, and unbelievably long, eight-metre pythons. There is a basic campsite nearby, and some travellers also book into a guided tour to grasp the full meaning of this historic area.
While smaller than the Northern Territory's Katherine Gorge, we enjoyed the experience at Lawn Hill National Park much more. It's a long road trip, but a true and exciting adventure in outback Queensland.
Lawn Hill is 340km from Mount Isa via Riversleigh, with 170km of the journey being unsealed. The more suitable route for RVers is via sealed road from Cloncurry to Gregory Downs, which is 325km and then a further 100km of unsealed road to the National Park.
Unsealed roads are at times rough with patches of bull dust and many corrugations. Be aware that following rain, some roads can be impassable.
Contact RACQ and Lawn Hill (Boodjamulla) National Park for road conditions. Contact the Bureau of Meteorology for updated weather conditions.
• Visit Adels Grove for an excellent two course outback meal for just $30 per person.
• Hire a canoe, explore the river and see the freshwater crocodiles.
• Take the Wild Dog Dreaming walk to view the Aboriginal art.
• Visit the Riversleigh World Heritage Area and take a guided tour.
BEST TIME OF THE YEAR TO VISIT
If travelling with a conventional RV and tow vehicle, it's best to travel between May and September as the roads can deteriorate outside this period.
Ph: 13 74 68
DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
Ph: 13 74 68
• Take a number of tourist walks in the Lawn Hill National Park.
• Climb Duwadarri Lookout at dawn.
• Visit the river and spot the freshwater crocodiles, birds and turtles.
• Swim under the waterfalls at Indarri Falls.
PLACES TO STAY
BOODJAMULLA (LAWN HILL NATIONAL PARK)
Ph: 131 304
Twenty unpowered sites by Lawn Hill Creek, 100km from Gregory Downs. Cold showers.
Shaded and sunny sites, cold showers, clean toilets with treated running water from various taps around the campground. Sites are $5.30 per person per night and bookings are essential.
Ph: (07) 4748 5502
Generators are permitted. Supplies such as ice, fuel, food, gas and emergency repairs are available.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY PATRICK KENNEDY